Tuesday, 16 July 2013

A Very Long Engagement (2004) - ★★★★½

Director: Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Writer: Guillaume Laurant, Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Stars: Audrey Tautou, Gaspard Ulliel, Marion Cotillard, Jodie Foster, Dominique Pinon

A Very Long Engagement is an absolutely beautiful film. Everything about it captivated me, from the horrors of war to the stubbornness of young lovers. Jean-Pierre Jeunet is most famous for his film Amelie, but in many ways this is his best work. Every single performance was stunning, surprising, and full of depth. Jeunet managed to combine romance and magic with the horrifying tragedy of WW1. It's quite a long film, yet it never loses sight of its purpose, which is the quest to find a loved one. You won't find many films as gorgeous and poignant as this one.

Set during WW1, five soldiers are sentenced to death for self-mutilation, for each had received injuries to their hands suspiciously. They're sent into "no man's land," the area between the German's and the French side on the treacherous front. One of the men, Manech (Gaspard Ulliel), was engaged to Mathilde (Audrey Tautou). After the war, Mathilde searches for the man she loves, who appears to have been killed in battle. She tracks down the families, friends and lovers of the other four men that were sentenced to death, all in hope that one of them may lead her to Manech. Along the way we meet many characters, each with their own stirring tales to tell.

It's a particularly emotional film, as Mathilde keeps convincing herself that Manech is alive through superstitious thoughts. She'd say things like "If the dog comes into my room before dinner, he's alive." I do that, because sometimes it's all you can do to keep your spirits up. You can't blame her for wanting the love of her life to still be alive, and there was never concrete evidence of his death. That's why this story interested me so much, because you never really know if her search is in vain. I think this is Audrey Tautou's finest performance to date. Her character was very similar to that of Amelie, but she expressed tons more emotion in this film. 

The war sequence at the beginning of the film was astonishingly touching. It reminded me a lot of Stanley Kubrick's masterpiece, Paths of Glory (1957). The cinematography throughout the whole film is sensational. It's as if they recycled some of the cast from Amelie, as well as the sepia tone romantic camerawork. They used a very old, romantic sepia tone during the scenes where Mathilde is searching or reflecting on the past. When it came to the actual war scenes, it was like a mixture between All Quiet on the Western Front and Saving Private Ryan. They managed to combine two completely different settings and make it blend to perfection.

Mathilde and Manech when they were kids.
The sequence where Mathilde and Manech are children stirred so many emotions in me. It made me shed a few tears. Jean-Pierre did a wonderful job at creating characters that are easy to fall in love with. Their relationship was just magical... like a classic romance from the 1940s. It raised the stakes of the film so much more, I really got sucked into Mathilde's search. My only problem is that they dragged the story on too long. There are too many travelling and establishing shots for my liking, and the ending was a bit of a let down too. It just wasn't up to the standard of the rest of the film.

Jodie Foster blew me away!
You know what the highlight of the film for me was? Jodie Foster. When I saw her I couldn't believe it. The whole sequence with Foster was a masterpiece. I found that small sub-plot to be more interesting than the main story. She was freaking amazing, proving to me that she truly is one of the greatest actresses of all time. As far as I could tell, her French accent was flawless.

Marion Cotillard was unbelievably fantastic too. She gave such a class, masterful performance as a woman who goes to more extreme methods to avenge her fallen lover.
Together, Foster and Cotillard raised my love for this film to new heights.

I watched this film very late at night, expecting to fall asleep about half an hour in. Boy was I wrong. From start to finish, A Very Long Engagement had me wide awake, hoping that Mathilde would find Manech. If a film can move you to tears, then they've done a masterful job. I'll never forget this movie, or the three M's. "MMM, Manech marries Mathilde." 

1 comment:

  1. I do agree that Jodie Foster's story in this was more interesting then the main one. I could not get into Mathlide search for her husband because I did not think those two actors showed me that they were in love on screen. The visuals were good and I may have to seek this one out again soon